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Parque Madrid Río, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza


Madrid has created the Parque Madrid Río after burying in an underground tunnel the M-30 ring road that long separated the city from the Manzanares River. The six-mile-long Parque Madrid Río, filled with 300 acres of green space, tree lined promenades, bridges, playgrounds, ball fields, bike paths, a skate park, outdoor cafes, picnic areas, a greenhouse, and an art and cultural center, meets the practical park needs of the people and will serve as a best practice example of a world class urban riverside park for decades and indeed centuries to come. Parque Madrid Río, focusing on park needs and not grandiose monuments, takes its place alongside other cultural park icons of Madrid: El Parque del Buen Retiro (1631) and Casa de Campo (1500s) (which is five times bigger than Central Park). This is not like Grand Avenue in Los Angeles or Millennium Park in Chicago. With Parque Madrid Río, the park itself is the monument.

The park cost over $500 million -- plus about $4.5 billion to bury the six- to eight-lane highway in 27 miles of new tunnels. It took only seven years for the project to go from conception to grand opening. Los Angeles should take note of the quality and pace of the work.

Parque Madrid Río epitomizes the finest in the Spanish national character, reflecting the visionary zeal of Don Quixote and the sobriedad of Sancho Panza, combined to actually make the dream of a park come true. In the meantime the Spanish people, buffeted by economic vagaries, await like Dulcinea. Spain is in a full-on depression, with unemployment levels of 24% generally and over 50% for young people. Spain, which on the eve of the economic crisis had low debt and a budget surplus, nevertheless faces economic suicide as a result of austerity cutbacks imposed by European leaders following a housing bubble that burst and the bail out of the German and Spanish banks that caused it. Parque Madrid Río, which opened one year ago in April 2011, stands as a counter measure to austerity, the kind of public works project that can put Madrileños back to work building green infrastructure and cultural icons while improving quality of life and the built environment for all.

Puente de Toledo | Photo courtesy Nic Garcia
Puente de Toledo | Photo courtesy Nic Garcia

Parque Madrid Río boasts over 25,000 newly planted trees and 470,000 shrubs and plants. According to the lead architect, Ginés Garrido, director of M-RIO Architects, "The park has the maximum number of plants possible. There can be no more trees." 10,000 newly planted pine trees line the right (west) bank. The left bank is graced with banana, chestnut, magnolia, cedar, lime, oak and other trees. Antonio Villaraigosa promised to plant one million trees when he became mayor of Los Angeles; Madrid actually did the planting.

Bicycling in Huerta de la Partida at the entrance of the Casa de Campo
Bicycling in Huerta de la Partida at the entrance of the Casa de Campo

Recreation permeates Parque Madrid Río. Places for play and physical activity include football (soccer) fields, tennis, basketball and multi-game indoor courts, pelanque pitches, a climbing wall, 18 miles of bike paths, a skate park and a BMX circuit. Playgrounds and adult fitness areas are built of wood and natural materials. The park even includes the home stadium of Atlético Madrid. There appears to be no tension between the recreation needs of the people and mainstream environmentalists in creating riverside park space, as there can be in Los Angeles.

The linear park unites smaller green areas:

  • The Salón de Pinos runs 6 kilometres along the river, unifying the linear park from the Casa de Campo on the north to the Parque de Manzanares Sur.
  • Jardines Aniceto Marinas is a garden on the left bank slope between Glorieta de San Vicente and the Manzanares River. Granite panels at the Glorieta trace the evolution of the river over the past century.
  • Huerta de la Partida, an orchard on the right bank dating to the 17th century, has been restored with 873 trees.
  • Jardines de la Virgen del Puerto on the left bank run from the Puente del Rey to the Puente de Segovia.
  • Jardines del Puente de Segovia abut the city's oldest bridge.
  • Baroque garden mazes complement the stone architecture of Puente de Toledo.
  • Gran Parque de Arganzuela is the largest single green space, with 62 acres including the urban beach.
  • The Crystal Palace of the Arganzuela is a green house restored in 19th century style.
  • The city's 100 year old slaughterhouse complex has been transformed into a multidiscipline arts and concert center, Matadero Madrid.

Parque Madrid Río includes 33 bridges, dating from the 16th century to now. Puente del Rey, built in 1816, links smaller park areas near the Casa de Campo. Puente de Segovia, built in 1584 on the site of an older bridge dating back to the 14th century, was dynamited during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and restored in 1943. The Puente de Toledo was finished in 1664 on the site of an earlier bridge. The contemporary spiral steel Puente de Arganzuela designed by Dominique Perrault provides park access for pedestrians and cyclists. The ceilings of the new twin pedestrian Puentes del Invernadero and Matadero have recycled glass mosaic ceilings depicting local residents by the Spanish artist Daniel Canogar. The Puente Oblicuo previously used for road traffic has been converted to pedestrian use. The spry three-legged Puente Verde has two arms on the left bank and one on the right bank.

Puente de Arganzuela
Puente de Arganzuela

There have been no creative pedestrian bridges on the L.A. River, until now. Judy Baca and SPARC are building an artistic green bridge at the Great Wall of Los Angeles. Although Los Angeles does not have bridges dating to the 16th century, it does have some designated as historic-cultural monuments, like the North Broadway built in 1911.

More than ten metro stops serve Parque Madrid Río, including the beautiful Príncipe Pío metro stop and train station. There are only about 14 metro stops in all of L.A.

Parque Madrid Río sets the standard for how to transform a city and a river. Los Angeles and other cities must sit up and take note.

Click here to see a slide show of Parque Madrid Río by The City Project.

Robert García studied at the University of Salamanca while in college. This is the second in a series of Green Justice reports on cities that are revitalizing urban waters, including Madrid, New York, Los Angeles and Habana.

Top photo: Punete de Segovia on the Manzanares River by The City Project.

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